Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jewish and Muslim Students Come Together for Passage to Understanding

FAU’s Muslim and Jewish student leaders teamed up on Monday, September 13th to help spread understanding and respect for each other’s religions and holy texts. They joined religious leaders and individuals from the community to read and discuss passages from both The Old Testament and The Qur’an. 

The discussion was held inside the Jewish Life Center at FAU’s Boca Raton campus. It was sponsored by the FAU Muslim Student Organization and the Jewish Student Union in conjunction with Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach.

The event was envisioned by the organizers as FAU’s response to recent inflammatory statements made by Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Church in Gainesville. The pastor had threatened to burn Qur’ans on September 11th.

“Those who burn books ultimately can burn bodies,” Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah Congregation said, quoting Jewish poet Heinrich Heine.

“The threat to burn the Qur’an is an insult to humanity. It’s an insult to every single person who believes in the dignity of the human being and the capacity of the human mind. I stand with my Islamic brothers and sisters in my repudiation of that and how despicable it is,” Rabbi Steinhardt said.

Rabbi Steinhardt and Sheikh Musab Abdul-Hakeem of Nur Ul Islam Academy took turns sharing their perspectives and answering questions.

Reading from the story of Abraham and Isaac from the book of Genesis, Rabbi Steinhardt offered a modern interpretation that placed the story in its historical context. “The Jewish tradition is an interpreted tradition… it has developed and evolved new meanings over time,” he said.

 “We Christians, Jews, Muslims, we have the ability to change the past. We have to take our religious traditions and allow them to speak to a different world where we aren’t going to see each other as enemies but see each other as brothers, not going to make each other the same but respect each other’s differences. For me this is a beautiful notion,” he said.

 Sheikh Abdul-Hakeem spoke of the similarities between religions.

“As Muslims, we cannot consider ourselves believers unless we believe in previous books, meaning the books of the prophets Moses, David and Jesus,” he said.

“God sent different prophets to different times, to different nations, with the same message but different laws. And the basic message was, ‘You should have no other God but me.”

He condemned extremists that interpret religious verses in order to deceive others.

“The notion that Islam is spread by the sword is the wrong notion because you have the choice to believe or disbelieve. It is not the will of God that all of us be along the same line. He gave us the freedom of choice,” Sheikh Abdul-Hakeem said.

FAU students were eager to ask questions and provide their own perspectives.

Josh Steinfeld, 25, was prepared with several questions for the Sheikh. Steinfeld wanted to understand the interpretive tradition of Islam and specifically, why the Qur’an’s version of Abraham’s story differs from the Torah’s.

Jed Khazem, 16, discussed passion in Islam and how that passion can be misconstrued and used as passion of terror and hate. “We should focus on the core element of passion and how it should be used in a setting of love and understanding,” he said.

The community also took part in the discussion. Joe Ankus drove from Weston to take part in the event after watching a report on the news. “I thought it was a great idea,” he said.

During the Q&A session, two men, one Jew and one Muslim, challenged Rabbi Steinhardt and Sheik Abdul-Hakeem to acknowledge the violence in their religions. Both men also agreed that religion should move away from the literal interpretation of holy texts as the words of God.

Lauren Heyman and Mona Hassan, presidents of the Jewish Student Union and the Muslim Student Organization respectively, organized the event. They stayed after to answer questions from both reporters and other students.

Scott Brockman, executive director of Hillel, approached the two women with the idea for the event as they shared neighboring booths at a club fair two weeks ago.

“More conversations like this need to take place, and need to be present in the media, and people need to see people talking to each other as opposed to yelling across the street from each other,” Brockman said.

He encouraged the people gathered to continue having interfaith dialogues.

“The students here, the power that you have is unrealized, the power that you have sitting here and what you can do together and what you can do for the community, there is unlimited potential, and you don’t realize how much you can change the world. Hopefully this is the first step.”